Saturday, March 2, 2024

Michael McDowell masterful in Indianapolis

When Michael McDowell scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at the 2021 Daytona 500, it came after slipping through a massive wreck on the final lap and holding a narrow advantage over Chase Elliott when the caution came out. Over two years later, McDowell beat Elliott and the field on raw speed alone as he navigated Indianapolis Motor Speedway‘s infield road course at a blistering pace to clinch a playoff spot.

McDowell led a race-high 54 of 82 laps, beginning the day with his maiden stage victory followed by runner-up in Stage #2 to Denny Hamlin. With road courses not having cautions between stages and the race being clean for the most part, pit strategy played a major role as McDowell opted to pit fifteen laps before Hamlin which allowed him to cycle back into the lead after Hamlin made his stop.

Although Elliott tried to catch up, he could not get anywhere near McDowell’s #34. The win is Front Row Motorsports‘ fourth and second outside of a superspeedway, but the only other non-plate win (Pocono in 2016 with Chris Buescher) was due to the race being shortened by fog.

“To win the Daytona 500, there’s not a lot of things that can top that. But this is a close second, and to have my family here with me, it’s very special,” said McDowell. “Obviously they couldn’t be there at Daytona (due to COVID-19 policies), and that was tough. But at the same time, we’ve been building and building at Front Row Motorsports and felt like we would have another opportunity to win a race, and I’m not going to lie, we cherry pick as a family which races we go to. We go to the ones that we think we can win, and we talk about it. We do, we talk about it as a family, like all right, we’re all going to be there, this is the weekend.

“If it didn’t happen this weekend, we’d go to Watkins Glen and say, ‘Aright, guys, this is the weekend.’ To have it all come together, it’s super special.”

McDowell had been straddling the playoff cut line, holding the sixteenth and final playoff spot entering Indianapolis. Elliott needs a win to qualify as he missed seven races due to injury and suspension, leaving him too far back to make it on points with just two races remaining.

Fortunately for Elliott, he figures to be the favourite entering Watkins Glen as a two-time winner there and leads all active drivers in road course victories with seven.

“I lost too much ground under that pit cycle and was trying to pace myself for the long haul,” Elliott explained. “It kind of had that green flag feel. I thought I did that, just needed to do a better job getting through traffic there.”

Aided by the aforementioned lack of stage breaks and single-car spins not being enough to merit one, the only caution of the race came on lap three when Justin Haley was hit by Joey Logano and sent into the tyre barrier. The Cup Series’ last race with just a single yellow flag was at Fontana in 2012, which was shortened by rain, while the caution-free 2002 Talladega fall race ran in its entirety.

The late Marvin Burke remains the only driver with a perfect record in the Cup Series after Chicago winner Shane van Gisbergen finished tenth in his second career start. The finish came two days after finishing nineteenth in his maiden Truck race (he switched from Cup to Truck points for the start as Cup drivers cannot enter the latter’s playoff rounds).

His Supercars Championship rival and current points leader Brodie Kostecki was twenty-second after starting at the back due to a qualifying crash. 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi respectively placed twenty-fourth and thirty-third, the latter having been punted by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in turn one. Jenson Button, who teamed up with Rockenfeller and his team owner Jimmie Johnson for NASCAR’s Le Mans entry in June, finished twenty-eighth; Button was also spun by Stenhouse, interestingly meaning the latter had taken out two Formula One alumni.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 4 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 82 Running
2 3 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 82 Running
3 1 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 82 Running
4 2 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 82 Running
5 9 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 82 Running
6 13 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 82 Running
7 12 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 82 Running
8 6 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 82 Running
9 7 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 82 Running
10 8 91 Shane Van Gisbergen* Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 82 Running
11 17 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 82 Running
12 10 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 82 Running
13 16 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 82 Running
14 39 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 82 Running
15 20 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 82 Running
16 27 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 82 Running
17 21 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 82 Running
18 19 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 82 Running
19 25 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 82 Running
20 22 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 82 Running
21 24 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 82 Running
22 11 33 Brodie Kostecki Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 82 Running
23 38 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 81 Running
24 37 42 Mike Rockenfeller Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 81 Running
25 34 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 81 Running
26 26 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 81 Running
27 35 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 81 Running
28 31 15 Jenson Button Rick Ware Racing Ford 81 Running
29 14 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 81 Running
30 29 51 Andy Lally Rick Ware Racing Ford 81 Running
31 30 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 81 Running
32 32 78 Josh Bilicki* Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 81 Running
33 28 67 Kamui Kobayashi* 23XI Racing Toyota 81 Running
34 18 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 81 Running
35 36 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 81 Running
36 5 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 80 Running
37 23 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 80 Running
38 15 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 80 Running
39 33 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 79 Running
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
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